In 1978, a group of Pittsburgh filmmakers and actors from the Romero family got together to shoot a movie called “Effects”, which was based on the novel “Snuff” by William H. Mooney. With a budget of $55,000, writer/director Dusty Nelson assembled a cast and crew of folks who would someday be renowned as artists or cult figures. But at the time, they were just young and enthusiastic and eager to make something that would stand out in the theaters. Unfortunately, due to a devastating distribution deal, “Effects” was never released. Thanks to the era of DVD, the film is finally seeing the light of day as a special edition Synapse disc.
While the story is simplistic—a group of people get together to make a low-budget horror movie, unaware that they’re all actually starring in a snuff film—the presentation is, at the same time, both unique and typical of the ‘70s. “Effects” takes its time to unfold, allowing the audience to get to know the myriad of characters who are involved in director Lacey Bickel’s (John Harrison, director of “Children of Dune”) villainous plot. At the center of all of this is Dominic (“Day of the Dead”’s Joe Pilato), the cinematographer and effects artist, who has no idea that his every action is being caught by hidden cameras.
“Effects” has the undeniable Romero touch—the careful pacing, the characters often held at arms-length from the audience—though that can be attributed to the editing of Pat Buba, who also served as Romero’s editor for much of his work (i.e. “Martin”, etc). “Effects” may not quite live up to the expectations audiences have had over the years—the idea of a “lost” movie with Savini (who has a small role as one of Lacey’s cronies) and other Romero protégés doubtlessly conjured images of untold gore—it doesn’t exactly disappoint, either. It’s a quiet, fascinating character piece, with a near-constant tone of underlying dread. The blood is minimal, but the atmosphere is pervasive.
The DVD is, of course, given Synapse’s rep, a triumph in and of itself. It has a lovingly transferred widescreen image and it’s packed with extras—a commentary, two of Harrison’s/Nelson’s bizarre, experimental short films and a photo gallery.
The jewel of the disc is “AfterEffects”, a documentary shot by Harrison and assembled by Michael Felsher and his Red Shirt Pictures company, that features interviews with all of the primaries as well as George Romero. The bulk of this doc takes place around the pool at one of their houses and it really gives you the impression that these are old friends who did great things with their lives, remembering how they got their start, and trying as hard as they can to figure out how they got to where they are today. If for no other reason, hardcore fans should pick up this disk.